1920s oilfield discoveries bring prosperity to Oklahoma small towns.
Many historic oil and natural gas discoveries followed the Indian Territory’s first oil well drilled at Bartlesville in 1897, especially after statehood came a decade later. Few of these discoveries had the tremendous economic impact as the greater area Seminole oil boom of the 1920s.
Although oil from the 1897 Bartlesville discovery could not get to refineries for two years (a lack of infrastucture), the first Oklahoma oil well brought more exploration. Other discoveries soon arrived, including the Red Fork Gusher of 1901, which helped in Making Tulsa “Oil Capital of the World.”
The Seminole oil boom eclipsed them all. It began with a July 16, 1926, wildcat well near Seminole, about an hour east and south of Oklahoma City, that launched a drilling and production frenzy. The Fixico No. 1 well revealed the prolific Wilcox sands at about 4,075 feet deep.
By 1935, the new oilfields around Seminole became the largest supplier of oil in the world. More than 60 petroleum reservoirs were found in 1,300 square miles – and seven were “giants,” producing more than million barrels of oil each.
The greater Seminole area – several 1920s Oklahoma oilfields – will “swing the United States’ oil reserves from scarcity to surplus,” notes one historian.
Flowing at 6,120 barrels of oil a day, the Fixico discovery well of R. F. Garland and Independent Oil Company was among five Seminole-area oil reservoirs discovered by 1927.
The series of discoveries included strikes in the Hunton lime formation by Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company in March 1926, followed by the July 6 discovery of Wilcox sand production by Amerada Petroleum Company nearby.
“In rapid succession came discoveries of the Searight, Earlsboro, Bowlegs and Little River reservoirs,” explains text on a granite monument near the entrance to Seminole Municipal Park.
The discoveries brought 20,000 oilfield workers to Seminole County – and created several classic petroleum boom towns, the 1977 monument adds.
The prosperity of these discoveries would transform life in many central Oklahoma communities, according to historian and author Louise Welsh.
Prior to the oil boom period, the greater Seminole area was one of the poorest economic areas in Oklahoma. The Seminoles were the smallest in numbers and the lowest on the economic scale of the Five Civilized Tribes.
“By the 1920s, farmers in Seminole County, like those elsewhere, were beginning to feel the pinch of hard times created by falling prices for farm produce. An advertisement of the First National Bank in the Seminole County News urged people to have clear heads, stout hearts and busy hands, and to remember that greater problems had been met and solved,” she says in A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field.
“It was quite natural that, under such stress, the prospect of finding oil should occasion both excitement and hope, since the prospect of leasing his land might provide the necessary funds with which the hard-pressed farmer could pay off his mortgage,” Welsh says.
Although the area’s first discovery came near Wewoka in 1923, and the Cromwell oilfield was developed in 1924, and leasing activity continued around Seminole, it was not until 1926 that the long hoped-for giant discovery was realized.
“It was the Independent Oil and Gas Company’s No. 1 Fixico, whose 6,120 barrels a day from the Wilcox created a real bonanza, that precipitated the Seminole boom,” Welsh explains. Seminole county’s population increased from 23,808 in 1920 to 79,621 in 1930.
At its height, the Seminole City oilfield accounted for 2.6 percent of the world’s oil production, she adds, noting that the massive production glutted oil markets and resulted in a price collapse to as low as 15 cents per barrel. The oilfields were then placed under state control. “Thus, the conservation movement, as far as the oil industry is concerned, started in Oklahoma and largely in the greater Seminole areas,” Welsh concludes. Dedicated volunteers operate the Oklahoma Oil Museum at 1800 Hwy. 9 West in Seminole.
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Citation Information: Article Title: “Great Seminole Oil Boom.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL:https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/seminole-oil-boom. Last Updated: July 15, 2019.